José Andrés Talks Hoops, World Central Kitchen, And Why Iberico Ham Is The Secret To Winning Titles

This year’s NBA Celebrity Game had a little added culinary flair, with the presence of Guy Fieri on the sidelines as Stephen A. Smith’s assistant coach. Chef José Andrés, meanwhile, played for Team Wilbon, which came out on top.

Andrés is a gigantic sports fan, particularly fond of Spanish national squads and Washington D.C.’s teams. He showed up to the red carpet in a Wizards warmup jacket rather than some fancy clothes to show love to his adopted hometown squad, and was telling anyone and everyone he could find that it was ridiculous that Bradley Beal was not an All-Star this season.

Andrés took some time before the game to speak with Dime in Chicago about where his love of basketball comes from, his incredible work with World Central Kitchen and how they expanded into disaster relief, the Chicago culinary scene, and why he believes he has evidence that eating Iberico ham is the secret to winning championships.

First off, how have you been training for this Celebrity Game? Have you been playing?

José: If you take a look it’s a video with [Jose] Calderon yesterday. Truth is, I’ve been injured since [going to] the Bahamas after the hurricane, and the last few weeks I had my friends, some of the doctors with the Wizards, taking care of my shoulder. Listen, if I can get a basket, that’s all I need.

[Guy Fieri walks by, José goes to give him a big hug]

Guy: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not [hugging you], you’re on the other team [laughs]. And I told you, I’m coaching not playing.

José: They invited me to play.

Guy: They invited me to play!

José: So why you don’t play?!

Guy: Cause I can do this and watch you play. You can make the mistake, not me [laughs]. Good luck, chef! I’m gonna watch it.

Before the injury, how much do you get to play ball?

Listen, I’m not in my best shape ever, but I played when I was very young and then I became a coach of a team of young girls and even had two levels of coaching back in Spain back in the day. For me, it was very important. In my community was a little town outside Barcelona and basketball was so important for the community. It was almost every day something going on around the basketball court in the middle of the little village, and now the dream is many basketball players are friends of mine here in the NBA — especially the Spanish players, I know many of them. Many of them I can say are good friends and are good people who have good skills but do even better skills outside the court.

I’m going tomorrow to Bahamas with Calderon and Serge Ibaka, and they’re going to be coming to some of the kitchens we still have there with World Central Kitchen. So, that shows you the NBA Cares is real, that I’ve seen many players — I remember the Wizards often coming with Wall leading to D.C. Central Kitchen, one of the main charities in Washington. Myself now going to the Bahamas with all the players, I love this interaction of, yes, we want them to be who they are on the court, but off the court even more amazing what they do.

I wanted to talk with you about World Central Kitchen, because the growth of it is pretty incredible from where you started 10 years ago, and now you do the disaster relief stuff. What are you most proud of with what you’ve been able to do with that?

Well what I’m proud is that people genuinely care. What we do is nothing special. We don’t plan, we don’t meet, we show up. What’s on the ground, and we make it happen. And to the degree it’s like with the NBA, if you have the shot take it, and we try to take it and we try never to miss it. People are hungry, people are desperate, people are thirsty, we go and we make sure that problem goes away. And so far, every day our role is becoming more and more important. Bahamas, we’re in Australia, we’re in Venezuela, we’re in Colombia, we’re in Guatemala. We are anywhere we are needed, we show up and we bring relief. I’m very proud of that.

It’s evolved to that where you go immediately for the disaster relief. How did that come about and what was the planning that had to go into that?

It began in Haiti and I cannot stop it. I mean to come from my home and sometimes I wonder, “Oh sh*t, I know I can be there and making a difference.” I’ve seen too many moments where a lot of people aren’t taken care of, and I’m trying to do what we can. A group of chefs that is growing in number, we are thousands and thousands around the world and they join us in an amazing way, and again, our systems are fairly simple, but what is amazing is we are able to have results in the middle of chaos. We bring light to chaos, and that quite frankly feels good. It’s a way for me to give back to America. It’s a way for me to give back to the world. I’ve gotten a lot, the least I can do is give back a little bit.

I was at the Basketball Without Borders camp this morning and some of the players come through and talk about feeling that responsibility to give back once they made it. I see that often in the chef community as well. Is that something you really like about the culinary community?

Yeah, listen, Guy Fieri is here, he’s going to be coaching today. He’s going to make me sh*t because he says why are you playing and I should’ve only been coaching. Like, really? Are you afraid? But Guy, besides being an amazing chef and great TV host, when the fires happened in California he was there in Paradise on Thanksgiving day, his family, my family, our teams, and we put together a meal for an entire community and for the firefighters. Everywhere I go, Ming Tsai, Ken Oringer, Tom Colicchio, everybody shows up. And those are the known names, but the community as a whole comes together and it’s very powerful.

I know you’re planning a couple new restaurants here in Chicago. What about the Chicago culinary scene do you like and are excited to bring your flavors here?

I have a lot of friends here. Grant Achatz is one I’m very proud, because at his restaurant he kind of pay a tribute to my team and I by doing an entire menu of some of our dishes. Rick Bayless is a chef I love and I love his restaurant and what he does. Man, there’s so many names, unknown restaurants that are amazing for tacos, for hot dogs. It’s just a city I feel very comfortable, despite the year Spain lost here to Italy in the World Cup in a game that was probably taken away from us, but aside from that, Chicago it’s only good memories.

You’re obviously a big Wizards fan and I know you wanted Beal in the game, but what have you thought of this season? They’ve kind of galvanized things lately and come together.

I think coach has done a good job. A lot of youngsters, giving a lot of opportunity to young talent. Very fun to watch, and let’s give them some time. Let’s get one or two of the players strong in the next two, three years, and I think coach has done a very good job with them. It’s fun to watch them, quite frankly. Wall has been injured, but Beal has been playing at his best. I don’t understand, the last six/seven games probably an average of 33 points per game. I mean, really he’s not in the All-Star? Give me a break! Who is the coach? Who is the coach?!

Lastly, do you have a favorite memory of an interaction with an NBA player or something you’ve done? I know you said you’re friends with a lot of the Spanish guys.

You know, with Pau Gasol I’ve experience great moments, great run. His run was close to me opening up my restaurant in L.A. too, and I always would say because I brought the Iberico ham to L.A. is the reason they won. Many of the players would come there. They all would eat the Iberico ham. I’m not going to lie to you, when I opened my Bazaar in Miami, many of the players would come in there to eat Iberico, and what happened to Miami? Boom, they won another ring. Boom. So, I’m telling you, something between Iberico ham, Lakers winning, and then the Heat winning. Iberico ham and winning a ring, I’m telling you, it’s the secret ingredient. First time I talked about this. I don’t know if that’s doping. I don’t know if that’s legal, but as far as I know eating cured ham, it’s OK. It’s following the rules.

So you’re saying if a team wants to gain the edge this season…

Iberico ham. Iberico ham. Period. I’m telling you. In Augusta, I bring Sergio Garcia the Iberico and, boom, he wins the Masters.